Thursday, April 26, 2012

For Jane. Disneynature's Chimpanzee.

Many years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to a dinner party with Jane Goodall. I can tell you that she is as lovely in person as she seems. I respect her even more for having met her than I did when I had only admiring her from afar. How did I rate this invitation? Well, I was one of the research assistants on her Chimpanzoo Project (yes, I spelled that correctly) back in the early nineties at the zoo I worked for. We followed Jane's strict guidelines and collected behavioral observations on our captive chimps for Jane and her field biologists to compare with the wild chimps. So, occasionally, she would come meet with the project coordinator, who also happened to be a mutual friend. Hence the invitation to dinner. I always looked forward to her visits, more to hear her speak about the chimps at the various fundraising presentations. She always had amazing stories and such a lovely way of making you feel like you could see and better understand the chimps through her eyes.

Nobody understands the behaviors, social structures, and cognitive abilities of chimps better than Jane. Not to mention all the work her Jane Goodall Institute continues to do, not only to better understand chimps, but to raise awareness and protect them and their wild habitat. Now, there is a really easy and fun way you can help Jane help the chimps. If you go out and see the new Disneynature film "Chimpanzee" before May 3rd, the proceeds will go to the Jane Goodall Institute. The movie sounds amazing. I plan to see it this weekend. The film crew happened upon an actual once in a lifetime story of a dominant male chimp, the leader of a troupe, who takes in and raises an orphaned youngster. This is something Jane says they have never seen happen before. But, don't listen to me. Watch her recent interview on the Daily Show, and let her tell you in her own words. Then, head out to a theater near you and see the movie!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mind Your Manners. A Raven Remembers.

The Youngster, by Amanda Corlies Sandos
According to a study published in Current Biology a week ago, Ravens have long memories and they are not afraid to show it. According to Markus Boekle and Thomas Bugnyar from the department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, ravens remember former group members for extended periods of time. They also remember former affiliations with members outside their group, not to mention other species, and they will respond accordingly.

Actually, it was proven some time ago in another study that corvids, the family of which ravens are  proud members, never forget a face. Now, we know they will also remember any interactions they might have had with you. This recent study shows that based on these memories of previous interactions, ravens will either greet you nicely if you are considered a friend, or cuss you out in raven speak the minute they see you coming if they perceive you as a foe. And you might have seen ravens and crows chasing off predators more than twice their size. They can be downright nasty and seriously determined if they want to get rid of you. So, my advice is to mind your manners around the corvids of the world. They are many, they have long memories, and they are apparently keeping tabs. I'd hate for any of you to make it onto their foe list. For more on this story, head on over to Jennifer Vegas blog on Discovery News.

And if you are a fan of the raven, you will find one making another appearance today over at The Ravens Crossing, where my Morgan & Holly story was published by Thursday & Co. Join the adventure and find out what the raven has to say. This week, TRC is participating in the Showers of Books Giveaway Hop. All you have to do is make the jump and comment on any of the stories this week to be entered in our giveaway. The prize is a $15 Amazon Gift Certificate. Our raven will count you as a friend, I guarantee it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day!

On this April 22nd, 2012, the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day, we have come so far, and yet have so much farther to go. I hope on this momentous day, you will take a moment to look around at your daily habits and think about just one or two simple things you can do to benefit our earth. For me, I have opted to work towards using less plastic in my kitchen. By that I mean, cutting the use of the ziploc bags my family is fond of buying. I've bought green, reusable containers, and I have been pointing them out to everyone each time I catch them in the presence of ziplocs. I am also being more diligent about carrying my reusable drink cups everywhere to cut back on the use of disposable cups, lids and straws. Yes, I already do these things and a whole lot more, like recycling, even using all green and recycled products in my art practice, like reducing as much paper in my office as possible, like purchasing a small car that is fuel efficient, and the list goes on. But, it's easy to get complacent, particularly when it comes to convenient food and drink option. So, this Earth Day, I am taking the time to reaffirm my commitment to green actions.

If you are in or around the National Mall, as always, there is a huge Earth Day celebration planned. Head on out and join those who will be showing their support for a cleaner, greener planet. You can find out more over at I am posting one of the first newscasts about the very fist earth day protests, in case you haven't seen it. You'll find that politicians today make some of the same tired arguments they made back in 1970, when they tried to place other things over the importance of environmental concerns. As always, to this I say, we have nothing if we don't have a healthy planet to sustain us. How much more important can it get than the survival of our species? Please don't misunderstand me. Issues like social justice and poverty or no more or less important than environmental issues. These are all supremely important issues that should be treated with equal respect. This is not an either/or kind of discussion. Things need to change on many fronts. Change can happen. I've experienced it. We all have. Change begins with each individual, in the simple act of reflecting on how they each can make a difference, then acting upon it, both by their choices and by their advocacy. It's as simple as that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Orangutans as Engineers

Photo by Adam van Casteren

A study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), argues that Orangutans practice technical engineering that is quite complex when building their canopy nests for sleeping. Adam van Casteren and a group of seven other scientists looked at "the architecture of the nests to determine the degree of technical sophistication used in it's construction."

Orangutans build their nests some 60 feet above ground, constructing it very quickly and efficiently, often within ten minutes. The structures are not only sound and safe, but comfortable as well, with a mattress-like lining of live branches atop the thicker structural weave for the main structure. Not only are these nests comfortable, apparently, these great apes are fans of keeping things green, since they often only fracture the branches they use without breaking them. The nests remain green and alive in the trees, and can be used again later. Though, often the orangs only use a nest for one night and move on, it's nice to know they don't go around destroying the trees they build in.

If you don't already have your own subscription to PNAS, which is pricey, you can read a little bit more about this study for free over at The Huffington Post.  

On the entertainment front, don't forget to stop by The Ravens Crossing this week for some fantastic science fiction, fantasy adventuring. My Morgan & Holly story was published today as part of the website's Earth Day, Week 10 celebration. All of the stories by all of the authors this week are at least double the usual 1000 word flash fiction length. There are some big reveals, some new characters, and lots of cameo appearances by all the favorite characters from the entire series. I highly recommend you give all six stories a read this week! One will post each day through Saturday, as always. The site is absolutely free and appropriate for all ages. You might even consider building your very own coach nest and settling in to read the whole series. We've gotten lots of compliments from people of all ages, and in just ten short weeks, we've gathered quite a following of regular readers to whom we are very grateful. Don't miss out on the fun, and happy nest building!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Land of the Leopard: Hope for Amur Leopards

Add caption
The Amur Leopard is the most endangered large cat on the planet. In fact, it is ranked among the most endangered animals on earth. It's wild population in a remote forest of Eastern Russia has been reduced to just 30 remaining animals. You would think that living in such a remote, frozen area of the world would protect these cats from human encroachment, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Habitat destruction due to logging and forest fires, not to mention illegal poaching and game hunting have very nearly brought this species down.

But, where there is a will, let's hope there will be a way. There have been some amazing steps taken to help save the Amur Leopard recently. For example, when the Russian government tried to build an oil pipeline through the center of the only remaining habitat for these animals, organizations like The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCA) spoke out in opposition, bringing the plight of these animals and their certain demise to the international media. They convinced all of the major banks to refuse to fund the billions of dollars needed to complete the pipeline if it was built through the leopards' home. In the end, the decision was made to run the pipeline through an already established industrial area, instead, and the Amur leopards were granted a reprieve.

Now there is even better news. It seems the Russian government may have recognized the value of protecting these animals. Land of the Leopard National Park has just opened in Russia in an effort to protect the critically endangered Siberian Tigers and Amur Leopards. It combines three smaller protected areas and adds a large tract of previously unprotected lands along the Chinese boarder. The park is now 1,011 square miles of protected habitat. Many organizations including the two already listed will continue helping to protect the park's large cats and their prey from illegal hunting. They will continue to create fire breaks and train fire fighters in the prevention of further forest fires, and they will work to prevent further logging and habitat destruction. Finally, there may just be some hope for the future of these beautiful cats. In their honor, here's a little video of some captive Amur Leopard cubs for your viewing pleasure. Please consider visiting  ALTA or WCS and find out how you can help save the Amur Leopards.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Warbler Spotting Tips

This little video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology makes me nostalgic. I used to love standing outside the aviary where I worked every spring giving bird watching tips to the visitors to get them excited about bird conservation. It was always great to see the children's reactions when they first learn how to follow their ears and spot a wild bird with binoculars. I can spend hours bird watching. It's spectacular fun, and you don't necessarily even need the binoculars, though they help a lot. And, don't think this means you have to go on some long hike, by the way. Check out this video with warbler watching tips from experts Jessie Barry and Chris Wood. They are looking for birds in a small neighborhood patch of woods. The footage is amazing. You don't need a huge forest, just some patience and a few pointers. Don't forget to drop by The Ravens Crossing to read my latest published young adult flash fiction story, Morgan and Holly. If you read the entire story from the start, you will find they've been bird watching, too. Big surprise.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Hope you had a fantastic weekend. Here is a little Eggstravaganza footage from the Denver Zoo to start your holiday off right. Mongooses and Easter eggs. It's always a riot! Hoppy Easter! :D

Monday, April 2, 2012

San Francisco Birds Sing a Different Tune.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
Who says birds aren't smart? Okay, I know. A lot of people. But, I assure you these people have no idea what they are talking about. Birds are amazingly savvy. I mean, I worked in an aviary for over ten years, and I am still constantly amazed by them. So, it didn't really surprise me to hear that birds of the same species sing different dialects, depending on the area they are from, kind of like the difference in hearing a Texan and a Bostonian speak English. It did surprise me, however, to read about a new study on the White Crowned Sparrow that shows the San Francisco singers of Sparrow have literally changed their song. It seems they have done so to be heard over their increasingly noisy surroundings.

According to a study by David Luther of Mason and Elizabeth Duberry of Tulane and Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural History, White Crowned Sparrows of the Presidio district of San Francisco have modified their song. The study compared songs from today with recorded songs in the area dating as far back as 1969. It seems that as the city streets grew louder, the birds began to rely more on their higher range notes, the ones that could be heard over the din. Eventually, they gave up singing the lower range of their song all together. I mean, really. Why bother if nobody can hear you? And with birds in matters of territory, it's important you be heard with no chance of misunderstandings, for heaven's sakes. So, the new dialect of Sparrow Speak has been officially named The San Francisco Dialect. You can read more about this over at Science Daily.

And speaking of birds, don't forget to swing by The Ravens Crossing, the young adult, sci-fi, fantasy project I write for. Tuesday is Morgan & Holly's story and some pesky birds will be making another appearance. There is still a chance to win a $20 gift certificate to Amazon. Hint: Look for the tab at the top of the page.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hungy Hippos for Your iPad

Today, head on over the Think for a really cool new iPad app. You can fit the hippos over the sides and use the app to capture the balls.

Make sure you watch their awesome commercial video.

Over at the The Ravens Crossing, Sarah Diemer paid us a visit. Check out her stellar interview. Learn who her favorite Muppets are and enter to win an autographed copy of her book, The Dark Wife. It's truly fantastic! Happy April 1st!